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No. 2: Kentucky Wildcats


Mike Miller

It’s Midnight Madness day. So we’re kicking off our college basketball coverage with our men’s preseason Top 25. Look for five teams posted a day, all this week.

2010-11 record: 29-9, (10-6) 2nd in SEC East
Lost in Final Four

Coach: John Calipari 64-12, 3rd year (467-151 overall)

Last NCAA miss: 2009

2011-12 roster [click here]
2011-12 schedule [click here]
2010-11 team stats [click here]

The good: Another year, another killer recruiting class. Kentucky expects this by now. It also expects those star recruits to win.

This group won’t be any different. Not when it has veterans to rely on.

Sophomore Terrence Jones spent most of last season playing in the post, but he’ll also be on the wing this year, which plays his strengths – mobility and versatility. Sophomore Doron Lamb could led the ‘Cats in scoring thanks to his shooting and knack for staying hot. Senior Darius Miller will be used where needed, whether it’s on defense, hitting shots or playing three positions.

As for the freshmen, center Anthony Davis and point guard Marquis Teague will step right into the starting lineup. Calipari’s already lauded Michael Kidd-Gilchrist’s defense and motor. He also may end up starting. It’s hard to say a 5-star recruit like Kyle Wiltjer may not play a large role, but that’s how it goes with Kentucky. It’ll be that good.

The bad: The problem with re-loading every year? You’re plugging in new guys in crucial roles.

There’s no reason to think Kentucky won’t win – two seasons is a small sample size for Calipari’s Lexington tenure, but I’ll take it – but even the John Wall-led group of 2009-10 fell short of the Final Four. Only a fool would call that a failure, but not making the Final Four this season represents a step back. That’s not acceptable.

That’s neither realistic nor fair. But that’s Kentucky basketball. It prepares to win national titles. It has enough SEC titles.

The unknown: Both of Calipari’s Kentucky teams thrived on offense and defense. Last year’s version ended up being slight more efficient on offense, which probably won’t be true for this group.

Davis is a natural shot blocker, but raw on offense. Kidd-Gilchrist is a more accomplished defender. Teague is fast, but is a savvy playmaker in a half-court offense? Jones and Lamb can handle themselves, but it’ll be interesting to see how Kentucky’s offense fares early on. (The defense should be superb from day 1.)

And, like most teams, any injuries will play a huge factor. Teague doesn’t have a tested backup. (Heck, he’s not tested.) The frontcourt depth is lacking. These are things Calipari’s dealt with before and handled.

Counting down the preseason Top 25

You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.